Nicole Buffett talks artistic process with
LUXe Cultura’s Alexis Emily
AE: When did your interest in art develop and how?
NB: Well, both my parents are musicians; I grew up in an artist family, so I usually tell people that for me, being an artist is like basically coming from a family of doctors and they’re surgeons and I became a dentist. In the sense that it’s in the field and it’s different, but the field is art. So being a creative professional was something that was very normal for me. Which I feel really lucky in that way too, so my parents set amazing examples of being people who were committed to their creative selves and their lives. In the sense of that was what they did in the world and that’s what they did as a profession. But personally, on a deep level my interest in art really, I really feel it’s a natural gift, it’s kind of a god given gift, in the sense it’s what I’m really good at, it’s my bliss, and it’s also a kind of sanctuary for me. It’s always been. I started really drawing when my dad gave me a record player and started to give me records from his collection. What I would do to practice drawing, or just kinda instead of doing the work I was supposed to be doing, like math, I would put a record on and then get a pad and pencil and supplies out and copy the album cover. So like, one of the first ones I did was Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman, for example. So I would listen to music and draw, and it really started from there, it was this place of joy that I had, that was like a meditation and I could do it, I really had a great connection: hand, eye, body connection and it was my strong suite always. Making art is very connected to my love of music. I also get to do this while doing another thing that I love, which is listening to music.
AE: What was the last thing you drew inspiration from?
NB: Nature is always one of the main places of inspiration and I think the last place I drew inspiration from was the most recent place I was living which was The Mendocino on the coast. So the ocean and the presence of more nature vs. man, when you’re there, there is more of nature, less man. So there is more silence, there’s more fresh air, there’s more plant life, and then there’s presence of the ocean and everything that goes with that, which is really powerful.
AE: So would you say that the presence of nature is a recurring theme in your work? Is that always intentional?
NB: Yes, absolutely very much so. It’s both less conceptional and intentional as it is functional in the sense of that I use a lot of natural elements in my work as materials. So what I like to do is connect with a place and I collect items that I feel are significant of that place. In Mendocino for example, there was tons of this bleached, bleached white drift wood that almost looked like bone that was compiled on the beach, I would collect a lot of that. And then I would collect earth from Mendocino as well. I would use those in strategic ways in the work that kinda created my own system, and made it unique to the environment from which it came from. Making work from a place making work with materials from that place, so that it almost captures an essence or a feeling that is totally unique to itself. In that way, it connects that places inspiration, how beautiful something is, without it being a replication of it, and kind of more of a transference or a transmission on an abstract level so it doesn’t have to be so linear, it doesn’t have to be so obvious, it can be a little bit more all chemical, almost all magical, the presence of this source of inspiration is actually inside of the work.
One of my first rules is “no thinking.” Stuck means I’m thinking. It’s interesting because when I’m making work, it’s a no mind place. It’s very intuitive, there isn’t a lot of thought there’s instinct and intuition and impulse and feeling and movement, but it’s a clear place of being. When I start thinking, I stop and I take a step back and disengage from the making process. So it’s either I’m fully engaged, where I disappear inside the painting or the painting disappears inside of me or when the mind kicks in I become visible again, and then there’s a separation between me and the painting, and that’s okay, that’s part of the process, but when I’m making, there is no thinking.
AE: Have you seen a shift in your art in relation to new experiences?
NB: Oh yeah. There is definitely a connection. It’s actually like a mirror. It’s the best way for me to see where I’m at and to experience myself. I can also transform my experience through the work, so I could start out feeling overwhelmed, maybe a little down and I take some of that energy and let’s say that translates visually to using darker tones, but then I start creating layers, and as I shift and work with and through that space that I’m in. As I shift internally, the piece shifts, so that by the end of the process the piece has harmony.
AE: Do you create your art in a particular space? Do you feel that your physical space is important to the creation of your art?
NB: I have actually up until the last few years I’ve created in two kinds of environments in a kind of industrial studio, art making space, where it’s basically anything goes, I can get paint everywhere, which I love and then I also like to work in nature, outside. Either if it’s on a deck and on tables where the presence of the sky or nature is right there. I like working in both places and I like taking pieces in and out of those environments as they’re being made. Part of the time, I’ll have a piece being made in nature and have it exposed to the elements overnight, a 24 hour period, or even a week period. Where it goes through the sun and the moon cycle, different things has happened the wind blows on it, the dew falls on it, the sun beats down on it, and there’s an element of it living inside the art. It’s out of my control and it gives a magical effect to work.
AE: Do you ever feel stuck while you’re creating a piece? How do you get unstuck?
NB: One of my first rules is “no thinking.” Stuck means I’m thinking. It’s interesting because when I’m making work, it’s a no mind place. It’s very intuitive, there isn’t a lot of thought there’s instinct and intuition and impulse and feeling and movement, but it’s a clear place of being. When I start thinking, I stop and I take a step back and disengage from the making process. So it’s either I’m fully engaged, where I disappear inside the painting or the painting disappears inside of me or when the mind kicks in I become visible again, and then there’s a separation between me and the painting, and that’s okay, that’s part of the process, but when I’m making, there is no thinking.
AE: Describe your relationship with your art in six words.
NB: Transformation, healing, realization, alchemy, fun, and power.
AE: What would you consider to be your most significant piece or series of work? Why does it hold that significance to you?
NB: The Guardians is my most significant piece of work. The Guardians really embodies everything I want to fulfill as an artist. It creates an experience that is beyond words, and it gives people a direct physical experience that is beyond thought. It allows access into a kind of beauty that is so simple, it becomes mystical, and for me that is the ultimate in spirituality, and in life and as a human. I feel like that’s a goal, to get our lives to such a profoundly simple place, that we realize that inside that simplicity there is the most complex magic that’s unfathomable…but it’s where we just let something be and let ourselves experience something without concept, without judgement, without making it into something more than it is, that’s ultimate beauty.
AE: What was the best piece of advice you have ever gotten?
NB: That’s easy. That was from my painting teacher in undergrad. We were drawing, it was a figure drawing class. So we’re all drawing, everyone has music on, and he says, “Everybody stop! Everyone stop right now! Put your stuff down! Right now. Look at what you’re drawing. I have one question for you…are you getting off on what you’re fucking drawing? Are you getting off on this? Do you like it? Do you like what you’re doing? If you don’t fucking like it, just stop. You have to get off on this shit. That’s the best fucking piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. As long as I’m getting off on it, it doesn’t matter if anyone else is getting off on it, fuck em’.
AE: Is there something you are currently working on? Or excited to start working you can tell me about?
NB: Well, I’m working in this new format of circles. That’s the concept and format I’m working with. I just finished that series, the circle orb series. The Guardians really inspired me to work inside that concept, the orb. I’m setting up a new studio here in Kansas City, Missouri, I’ve just relocated. So really I’m dual city really, I’m going back and forth, but I still consider myself a San Francisco artist, always will. I have so much there, and I’m working on projects there, I currently have a show there. I’m working with the American Indian Center of the Great Plains, I’m going to be doing some work with Native American artists, sacred plants, and the circle, looking at what it means to us humans, and how it’s significant historically and culturally to the Native American people. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a connection to the CEO of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains here, and he had asked me to be the artist in residence in the center. That’s why I’m here, I’m setting up an amazing studio space, looking at a lot of different possibilities, ranging from creating an artist residency program for Native American artists in the area to starting my own body of work here and seeing what happens. It’s all about putting myself in new places and working in new environments and really just letting creative energy take me where it will. I get in trouble when I start thinking too much, a little bit is good, but not too much. I’m here and I’m excited and open to the mystery.
AE: Do you have a motto that you live by?
NB: I make my own life. I am the center of my life.
AE: What three things never fail to bring you pleasure?
NB: *Laughs* Music, food, and love!
by Alexis Emily
Photographs by Anastasiia Sapon